How I love

the sound of the rain
dripping from the gutters
gurgling down the drains
everything that stood
still moving again

How I love

the healing hand of Nodens
reaching out to touch
sooth replenish

these thirsty flowers
that grow in my garden

How I love

this sense of relief that
we are not quite cursed –

the gods still listen to
our prayers respond

to offerings of dreams

How I love

the Rain of Nodens
hope you will visit again
you are welcome here
every day to keep us green
and at night the gates
of dream are always open

A Glimpse of Pure Sunshine

The final prose poem in Melissa Lee-Houghton’s challenging confessional collection, Sunshine, is called ‘Hope’. Hope is scarce. The subject is a dream akin to a horror movie where the narrator is kidnapped and her companions are beheaded one by one, ‘blood gushing like red schnapps.’ When she is the only one left alive for a moment she thinks she’s won. Yet the time arrives for her to hang her head over the metal sink for the man in the white surgeon’s mask with the scalpel. ‘Hope’ ends with the following lines: ‘Although my psychiatric worker said it’s more than unusual, I died in that dream, and I went somewhere. Part of me remains there, happily, in the glamorous glare of lost hope and a sadness spun of pure sunshine.’

This poem struck a chord because two years ago I had a horrific dream ending with the suggestion of an afterlife. I was a soldier fighting in a jungle and had been captured to be executed. As I faced the firing squad, I knew I was going to die. I called to Gwyn ap Nudd, my patron god, for help. Filled with superhuman strength, I broke away in the form of a heavily muscled pig-like warrior. However, I was tracked down and recaptured. When I consulted Gwyn from my cell, he told me he couldn’t save me again. I must send my soul into the hazel, the beetle and… a third thing I can’t remember when it came to my execution. The next minute I was walking amongst hazel trees with a friend, speaking with complete calm about how to get my soul into a tree and turning over the leaves to find a beetle. I was utterly convinced about the survival of my soul, the calmest and surest I’ve ever felt. That reassuring feeling, like a glimpse of pure sunshine, remains with me to this day.

Fairy Lane

Winter Break

Winter is a time
of nurturing deeper dreams
whilst the land sleeps beneath
the rule of Winter’s King

so I’m going to be taking a break from blogging here until Imbolc to work on my new book and other gestating ideas and to explore the landscape. Best wishes to everybody for the cold season.

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A Winter of Dreaming the Rain

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For Nodens

I.
I’m working with horses again, putting a saddle and bridle into a tack box outside a stable. The setting feels like a long time ago as at modern yards everything is locked in a tack room, burglar alarm set. The last task is to take the horses to the fields. This must be done quickly because the tides will come in to cover the path.

We lead the horses out in a single line down the narrow raised track: impatient, pulling at their bridles, hooves clomping on the water-logged ground. We take them through the gate and set them free. They spit their bits then buck and leap into the distance. On the return, water washes over our wellingtons. I realise no-one can steal the tack because of the tides.

II.
I’m standing with a friend beside a road. The road is composed of water and leads uphill into an old mill town and. Instead of cars, timber boats move slowly upward on a pulley like a fairground water-ride. I’m kind of glad to see this change. It will slow my friend’s driving down. It will slow everyone down.

We’re standing together again, this time at a roundabout on Penwortham By-Pass. But this time it’s like spaghetti junction but worse and all the roads are rushing water-courses. A Bard on a motorbike appears to show us a secret lane, cutting water with his tyres. We splosh through safely.

III.
I’m in bed. Where my altar usually stands is a dressing table and shoe rack. Water seeps up through cracks in the floor boards and over my shoes. In reality I don’t have lots of shoes and I’m not a shoe-hoarder. However in this dream I have strappy golden stilettos, heels with complex buckles, shiny fat-tongued trainers, studded leather boots. The most important task is to rescue the shoes.

I gather as many as I can and take them to the edge of a lake. The only way to cross is on a duck. Even though the ducks are duck size this is possible and they’re used to it. Lots of ducks are giving rides. When I get halfway across the lake, someone turns the wave machine on. My duck bobs and leaps. We can’t get across and to my horror I start dropping the shoes.

IV.
I’m standing at the top of a tall stone tower. Beneath is a lake. The Keeper of the Tower has given me a missive. I must steal the young of a monstrous cat before they cause trouble. I’m expecting something like Cath Palug. Looking down I see my parents’ house cat; black with a white snip, fast asleep, tail wrapped around yellow tennis balls in which she keeps her kittens.

It looks too easy to be true. Except, how am I going to get down? Suddenly I’m swooshing downward on swift black wings. I can fly! I’m a raven! I can barely believe it. Delighting in my newfound ability I circle and swoop, skate on the water, flap my wings.

“Look! Look! Look at that raven!” children pull on the sleeves of their mothers gathered with prams to feed the ducks at the water’s edge, pointing excitedly.

I’m having so much fun I don’t care until I remember my mission. I swish down and steal one of the tennis balls from the sleeping cat. When I take it from beneath my wing it is nothing but a piece of wood engraved with a number. I’ve been tricked.

V.
Old college friends have moved into my street because it’s one of few places left unflooded. Fish House Brook has become a river. However that isn’t the threat. Water rises from drains with sewer rats. Some are big as dogs. One floats by balloon-like, dead, bloated with disease.

We bag up our belongings and camp beneath the By-Pass. For some reason there are rat-sized portholes in the tents. Volleys of rats pour in, sleek and wet as otters, biting, squealing. We’re forced to leave in a mass exodus with our lives on our backs down a long and watery road knowing nowhere is safe.

Breaking the Silence

Two months ago I decided to take a break from blogging. I’d returned from Wales after climbing mist-ensorcelled hound-haunted Cadair Idris. Standing on the shoulder of a giant dizzied by his mad dreams. Staring down into Llyn Cau and Llyn y Gadair. Finding refuge in the hut of the mountain guide.

In Wales the gods are huge. Their names and stories echo from deep valleys and massive mountains and are carried in streams and rivers to where the immensity of the sky meets the immaculate sea on the western coast. From Pen y Gadair the mists of Gwyn ap Nudd never leave.

On Borth beach I read Heron’s new translation of ‘The Dialogue of Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwyddno Garanhir’. The name Borth derives from Porth Wyddno and is the location of Cantre’r Gwaelod (The Bottom Hundred); Gwyddno’s drowned kingdom. It was my intuition Gwyddno died there and the poem records a conversation between the worlds where Gwyn offers Gwyddno protection and guides him to Annwn (the Brythonic otherworld).

Reading the poem was immensely powerful. I experienced vividly the presence of these two great mythic figures speaking against the backdrop of the pebbled beach and roaring sea. Afterward at sunset I saw the otherland of which Gwyn speaks ‘where the tide ebbs fiercely on the shore’ appear on the horizon.

Borth VI returned to Penwortham mind-blown with much to absorb in thought and dream only to experience another immensity. This time a crushing one. Walking the section of the old pilgrim’s path that leads across the A59 from the site of St Mary’s Well to the War Memorial I got trapped in the middle of the road: unable to cross because of the heavy rush of traffic at school pick-up time.

A59 between site of St Mary's Well and Penwortham War MemorialI knew this was the result of the widening of Penwortham By-Pass. A rush which will only increase when a new stretch of by-pass is built leading over the river Ribble to Junction 2 of the M55 (which exists only in name having been planned over 40 years ago). That this was linked to the expansion of BAE, the University of Central Lancashire, to the building of new housing developments and employment sites throughout Preston and South Ribble.

I was struck by the overwhelming gnosis it was beyond me to stop the growth of this monster. I could not stop the City Deal. I’d known for a while the City Deal was something not even the most seasoned campaigners would dare take on as a whole. That each of us must find our own way of protecting what we value within the realms of possibility whether it’s by campaigning against individual developments, fracking (which will not only ruin the landscape and poison our sacred watercourses but fuel the monster), austerity, defending and caring for an area of green space or growing and nurturing a community group.

Acknowledging this insight has taken a lot of readjustment during which I realised attempting not even to save the world but just South Ribble and Preston, Penwortham even, was beyond my capability and making me ill. Not only that, Peneverdant ‘the green hill on the water’ with its aquifer shattered in 1884, its holy wells dry, its banks subsiding with falling trees and gravestones under increasing duress from the By-Pass wanted to close down. Hence the closure of ‘From Peneverdant.’

What did I have left? The Friends group I run in Greencroft Valley with its wildflowers and apple trees. The monthly poetry night I play a lead role in organising at Korova Arts Cafe & Bar which provides a safe and welcoming space for newcomers and established poets to perform. The Oak and Feather Grove.

My relationship with the land and the gods which my recent travels north and to Wales have taught me need not be limited to Penwortham. The inspiration and awe I find in my path as an awenydd devoted to Gwyn ap Nudd. The depth and magic of his known and unknown stories. A growing awareness of other Brythonic gods and goddesses and their myths.

Whilst I’ve had support and companionship from friends and family and other poets and pagans, until the past couple of months my path as an awenydd and Brythonic polytheist has been a lonely one. However, in October I went to Glasgow to a ritual to Epona-Rigantona led by Potia and last week returned to Borth and finally met Heron, whose writing has guided and inspired me for several years.

Together on Borth beach Heron and I read my story ‘The Crossing of Gwyddno Garanhir’ which I wrote after my previous visit to Borth based on his translation of Gwyn and Gwyddno’s dialogue. It was moving and beautiful reading and listening to the words, born from the place, from an ancient poem passed on from poet to poet, feeling it live on the sea breeze and the rolling tides, honouring Gwyn’s role as a psychopomp, Gwyddno’s passing and the absent cranes (‘garan’ from Garanhir means crane in Welsh) who I gave the role of soul-birds. Afterward we walked across Cors Fochno (Borth Bog), where cranes may have nested, up Cwm Clettwr and to Taliesin’s grave.

I returned nourished with my feeling of the increasing import of the Brythonic myths juxtaposed with my frustration so few people have an interest in them. Of having much to share but no-one to share with. Which led once again to despair until I had a dream which somehow I knew took place ten years in the future.

I was leading a guided tour of one or two disinterested people to ‘Cockersand Fields’ (which I interpreted to be the fields near Cockersand Abbey where a statue to Mars-Nodens was found) and was feeling ready to give up on this task and life altogether. I hadn’t put my heart into it for several years. Then I saw a group of young backpackers approaching from boats on a sunset beach with smiles and eyes filled with hope. They’d come searching for stories about Gwyn, which I’d failed to write: a failure I suddenly regretted and a friend pushed me to rectify.

The dream seemed to be telling me not to lose hope in a vocation that nurtures my soul, brings me joy and could likewise bring meaning and purpose to others because my writing doesn’t provoke immediate responses or recognition. To think of the long term rather than satisfaction in the now.

Thus for the first time since the closure of ‘From Peneverdant’ I break my silence. Whilst I can’t promise my words will save the world or even Penwortham, I hope for others led down strange paths by little-known gods they may provide signposts in the mist that lead to the strength and inspiration to live with joy and depth in this troubled world.

Borth III

Solstice Sun Down from Preston Bus Station

Old sun sinks
into the bowels of the city
which holds me in its windows,
in panes of light golden as mead.

Dusk arrives in a purple cloak,
dresser of towers and spires,
not softening the concrete brutal curves
of this maligned iconic genius

whose rawness of might is like a clenched fist,
whose vulnerable underbelly knows the hope
of arrivals and vast pain of final departures,
busking, shrieks and the reek of piss.

Yellow and pink the city lights up,
etching its electronic dream on a moving backdrop;
the palimpsest of museums, mills and stadiums
that have fired our consciousness

and kept us small and discrete,
a match box car and two tiny figures
lost within a car park’s cosmic changes,
sole witnesses to its theophanies

until the arrival of the suicide watch.

Solstice SunsetView from Preston Bus Station

The Other Side

Looking beyond the embers of bridges glowing behind us
To a glimpse of how green it was on the other side
Steps taken forwards but sleepwalking back again
Dragged by the force of some inner tide
– Pink Floyd High Hopes

Glastonbury 2000

The world was ours, the moment all that mattered.
Our hopes were high in the mist of dawn.
We flung our friendship over the wildest horizons
riding rainbow lights and drums to distant haunts
that never satisfied the fire in our souls
nor the loneliness that lay its pall between us.
Strung out on stars, burning everything of value
we reached the ravaged borderlands and paused
so far gone even astronomers couldn’t find us.
Looking beyond the embers of bridges glowing behind us

they saw the stone circle and distant Tor,
the penumbra of a festival vanished to the night.
At last we staggered home lost and nearly blind,
dazzled by the sun we couldn’t find to tiny houses
with stiff front doors surrendering hope for certainty.
The return was hard, obeying the constant grind
of re-learning how to put one foot in front
of the other one. Re-mastering the system, unseeing
starry skies. Yet on the odd occasion reality elides
to a glimpse of how green it was on the other side.

I fought onward, eventually alone
as the division bell began to toll, making happy
families with freshly ironed clothes, polished homes
and forced smiles. From a dusty library I looked out
across the hills- a glimpse of green and beacon fire.
My feet trod through cotton grass to broken remains
of tribal ruins drawn by chants on the west wind.
The other side returned to life in the vestibules of trees.
I saw a river goddess wash her hair in the rain.
Steps taken forwards but sleepwalking back again

the fragments stayed broken, my vision incomplete.
Stunned by the Tor redrawing itself on the backdrop
of my mind I relit the embers on the Ribble’s bank
and recalled the last hint of paradise before everything
went black and time took our dreams away. Guided
by the voice of an otherworldy king I reclaimed my pride
at the Tor’s white spring. Time performed its circle,
gave back my starlit dream. The world is mine again.
To the other side and spiralling back I ride
dragged by the force of some inner tide.

Glastonbury Tor 2013